Self improvement is a popular topic as we look forward to the beginning of a new year. While a new diet or gym pass can be healthy ways to celebrate a fresh start, it is also important to focus on inward development. Incorporating minor changes to your routine can elevate your creative output and increase productivity throughout the year.
Our tips for maximizing creativity were compiled by a variety of experts and psychologists. Read the simple suggestions below to improve your daily routine and inspire more innovation.
Visit your happy place.
Behavioral psychologist Dr. Weinschenk espouses the benefits of finding a space where you feel calm and comfortable. Whether that space is a coffee shop, a park bench, or the ocean, try to visit it regularly and let your mind wander. When in a quiet place, your prefrontal cortex is able to connect with different neurons allow you to quiet and focus your mind.
Take a shower.
Showering releases dopamine and shocks your system, allowing you to focus on internal contemplation rather than on external stimuli that surrounds us daily. Professor John Kounios argues that insight, which he defines as the moment a solution simply pops into our heads out of nowhere, is mostly likely to occur when in the right state of mind, which often happens out in nature or in the shower.
Roll your eyes.
Rather than revel in sarcasm, simply close your eyes and roll them from side to side. According to a study by Stockton College, a 30-second eye movement triggers an inter-hemispheric interaction in the brain. Facilitating a connection between the right and left sides of the brain boosts creative thinking.
Walk to work.
Getting just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise before work can expand our ability to problem solve. Professor David Blanchette argues that even brief activity results in greater creative potential for up to two hours afterwards. This also means you should consider taking a walk during lunch to get the ideas flowing again.
Focus on the trees and the sky.
While walking to work, take a moment to absorb the beauty of a blue sky or a green garden. A University of British Columbia study found a connection between looking at cool colors and the ability to think creatively. In this case, it’s true stopping to smell the flowers inspires creativity.
Have you ever gotten stuck on a problem at the office only to have the answer become crystal clear as soon as you leave? An Indiana University study showed that creating spatial distance between yourself and an idea allows for more creativity and encourages problem solving. These researchers have concluded that portraying a task as originating further from the self resulted in more creative responses and improved problem solving.
Solve a puzzle.
When you transition tasks during your work day, warm up your brain. Just like an athlete who stretches before taking the field, you must focus your mind before approaching an assignment. Professors Moreau and Nevi concluded that modern workers are given fewer opportunities for creative thought and noted the benefits of providing a small timeout to solve a problem with Legos.
Allow yourself to drift off while focusing on something you associate with the pinnacle of creativity. A Duke University report showed that business students were able to come up with more creative solutions after staring at the Apple or PC logo (depending on personal preference). Next time you are stuck, try to channel your creative spirit by focusing on a solely visual task.
Read something absurd.
Browse a website with unique content, explore the depths of Reddit, or break out some Kafka. Research by a University of California Santa Barbara professor validated the idea that exploring unusual and unrelated content could induce a creative response by heightening perception and enhancing learning of novel patterns.
Journal by hand.
Rather than picking up your phone first thing in the morning, grab a pen. Dr. Barron, author of The Creativity Cure, discusses how the simple experience of picking up a pen and writing by hand can spark new ideas.
Practice an instrument.
Even if it’s not your strength, try to play a tune on a piano or another instrument of your choosing. Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that playing musical instruments encouraged the brain to think with both sides at once. This collaboration helps cultivate ingenuity.
When trying to come up with new ideas, start by asking a lot of questions. Keith Sawyer, author of Zig Zag, describes how Starbucks and Instagram both began through the act of asking and answering questions. Think of ten solutions to your question and see what those answers inspire. Simply considering different viewpoints can lead to new ideas.
Create when you’re angry.
Multiple studies have noted the increase in creative productivity by those in depressive, angry, or other highly emotionally states. According to this research, strong situational factors including negative emotions can result in powerful reflective thought. In fact, the study found that the most creative time for many was after some sort of social rejection.
Dr. Lipnacki from the Australian National University tested participants on their ability to solve word puzzles and found they could perform them faster while laying down. This ability to solve problems more expediently while in a relaxed position is likely due to the reduced role of noradrenaline, which inhibits creative thinking.
Set your own deadlines.
Avoid procrastination by determining your own due dates and adhering to them. An MIT study concluded that setting your own deadlines reduced delays and improved performance. Regardless of whether you work in a lenient or strict environment, set goals for yourself and work to accomplish them in a timely manner.
Dim the lights.
According to a study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology, lower light settings triggered a perception of freedom and supported creative processing. The results from this study exemplify the importance of environment to improving productivity. For optimum output, use natural sunshine and turn off or lower fluorescent lights.
Leave the mess.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota encourage you to leave your desk a little messy. The study suggests that order fosters healthy, conventional choices and disorder fosters creativity. Cultivating a disorderly environment allow us to feel more free from inhibitions, resulting in more out-of-the box thought.
Rather than expecting an “aha” moment during your most productive hours, wait until your brain is quiet. Dr. Beilock explains that we are most creative at non-optimal times. Reserve your peak hours for the tasks that require working memory and your down time for thinking about information differently.
Fostering good habits is key to boosting the output of new ideas. For more ways to add innovation into your routine, check out our list of TED talks on creativity that you can listen to on the go.
Sources: Dr. Weinschenk | Professor David Blanchette | Professor John Kounios | Stockton College | University of British Columbia | Indiana University | Journal of Marketing Research | Duke University | NIH | University of California Santa Barbara | The Creativity Cure | Vanderbilt University | Zig Zag | Australian National University | MIT | Journal of Environmental Psychology | University of Minnesota | Psychology Today